The Breadwinner

by

Deborah Ellis

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The Breadwinner: Chapter 14 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Parvana cautiously calls out, but she can’t see anything in the darkness. She lights three of her matches and finally finds the woman huddled against a wall. The woman is crying too hard to give her name, so Parvana introduces herself using both her female and male identities. Parvana invites the woman to come home with her, but she realizes they have a problem when she lights another match: the woman isn’t wearing a burqa. Parvana offers to go fetch one so the woman can come home with her, but the woman grabs onto Parvana’s arm. The woman doesn’t let go, even when Parvana says she must go home so Mrs. Weera doesn’t worry. Finally, Parvana offers the woman a snack and sits down to think.
In this moment, Parvana has to use all the skills she’s learned in order to figure out how to deal with this situation. It’s important to recognize just how kind and caring Parvana is—it never occurs to her to abandon this woman, which is presumably what the Taliban would want her to do. Staying and trying to figure out how to help is a form of resistance that will help Parvana build up her community and make others feel safe and cared for.
Themes
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Parvana decides that they should wait until dark and then head to her apartment together. The woman doesn’t have a chador and Parvana doesn’t have her scarf, so they’ll have to hope no one sees them. They settle just inside the doorway so they can watch for the dark of night. Kabul has been under curfew for several decades and bombings destroyed most streetlights, so it’s very dark at night. Mother used to lament that Kabul was once “the hot spot of central Asia” and reminisce about eating ice cream in the streets at midnight.
Again, Mother’s memories of what Kabul was once like make it even harder for Parvana to accept what Kabul is in the present. The city she knows definitely isn’t one where it’s possible or safe to eat ice cream in public at night, so while these memories help Parvana understand how Kabul has changed over the last few decades, they’re less helpful as she tries to navigate the city now.
Themes
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
When it’s dark, Parvana leads the woman out onto the street. She tells herself that she’s Malali, though it’s hard to feel the part with her tray of cigarettes. Parvana almost tells the woman to walk more quietly—the Taliban made it a crime for women to make noise while they walk—but she remembers that since this woman is out without a burqa and they’re out after curfew, noise will be the least of their problems if they get caught. Parvana thinks back to the stadium and thinks she doesn’t want to know what the Taliban might do to her. They avoid headlights, soldiers, and uneven pavement, but they finally reach the apartment.
Reminding herself of Malali helps Parvana work up the courage to navigate the streets at night. Her understanding of just how dangerous this situation is and what the consequences might be if they’re caught speak to her growing maturity and understanding of how this world works. In this sense, Parvana knows exactly who she is as an Afghan woman and what she must do to get by—and if she wants meaning in her life, she must resist the Taliban.
Themes
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Mrs. Weera hugs Parvana and the woman. Parvana quickly explains the situation and Mrs. Weera takes the woman to clean up. Parvana notices that the woman looks younger than Nooria. She sets out supper and finds clothes for the woman while Mrs. Weera and the woman are in the bathroom. When Mrs. Weera and the woman emerge, the woman looks exhausted but less terrified. She falls asleep quickly. It’s not until the following night that the woman can speak. She introduces herself as Homa and says that she escaped from Mazar-e-Sharif just after the Taliban took the city. Homa explains that the Taliban went into every house looking for enemies. They took her father and brother outside and shot them, and then they shot Homa’s mother when she hit the soldiers. Homa survived by hiding in a closet.
Once again, Mrs. Weera shows herself to be open and accepting of everyone who needs help. It’s simply in her nature, the novel suggests, to do what she can to ease someone’s way. Homa’s story, however, makes it clear to Parvana her own family is in trouble—Homa came from the same city where Mother, Nooria, and the younger children are. That the Taliban has overtaken the city shows that this conflict is far from over, and it will be necessary for individuals like Parvana and Homa to continue to resist for some time.
Themes
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
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Homa says that after a while, she went downstairs. Soldiers forbade her and others to move or cover their family members’ bodies. They also told Homa to stay inside. She was so afraid that she left in the dark. As she ran, she saw wild dogs eating bodies. This was too much for her, so she hid in a truck among bundles. It stopped in Kabul, and she hid in the building where Parvana found her. Homa starts to sob and gasps that she left her family for the dogs to eat. Homa cries until she falls asleep.
While Parvana was capable of seeing the humanity in the Taliban soldier whose letter she read, the Taliban clearly have no interest in recognizing the humanity of the people they conquer. This makes it far easier for Parvana and Mrs. Weera to understand the necessity of continuing to resist.
Themes
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Mrs. Weera assures Parvana that Mother and Nooria are safe, but Parvana feels hopeless. She crawls onto the toshak and stays there for two days. She insists to Mrs. Weera that the women in her family do this when they’re sad, but Mrs. Weera points out that the women in Parvana’s family also get up and fight back. Finally, late on the second day, Shauzia appears. Mrs. Weera takes Shauzia onto the landing and then, Shauzia sits beside Parvana. After talking for a bit, Shauzia says she doesn’t like working alone and asks Parvana to come back. Parvana knows she can’t refuse. Part of her wants to leave everything behind, but another part of her wants to be Shauzia’s friend. Parvana returns to work, but she feels like she’s living in a nightmare. Things start to look up when one afternoon, Parvana discovers two men helping Father to the apartment.
Sometimes, Parvana suggests, people just need time to sit with their thoughts and grieve. While this is understandable, Mrs. Weera makes an important point: grieving is fine, but people cannot wallow in grief forever. Rather, they must get up and continue to fight back in every way they can. Shauzia’s visit reminds Parvana that regardless of what happens to her family, she still has friends to fight for. Indeed, it’s possible to credit Parvana’s friends with her family’s success and continued survival. Without Shauzia and Mrs. Weera, the family may have succumbed to hopelessness long ago.
Themes
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
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